First Union

by Nirupama Sudarsh
(Pune)

Narayanaswami lit the tip of the agarbatti lodged underneath a thickset Ramayana placed on a decaying wooden stand. A framed picture of Lord Ganpati gleamed from the aureate blaze of a tiny brass lamp, the only source of illumination, placed in front of it. An ashen mud pot of basmam and a glass bottle of camphor were the other objects on it. The room was sparsely furnished with an old black plastic cot with straw like base, also made of plastic, but fraying at the edges and a dusty wooden chair in a corner.


Images of his senile mother, daughter estranged when at twelve and the woman who once commanded his life, floated in the blackness of his mind as he prayed. It had been 20 long years since the separation. He still didn’t understand why she left him for another man. He had always thought of them as a picture perfect family. But when the drought scorched his crops, prosperity vanished and so did she with their daughter leaving him to live the grim shadow of his former glorious life. Their paths had never crossed each others’ since then. He chose not to walk into hers rather. He knew what came of her and their child. They led fine lives and that is all he had wished to know.

A hot bead of tear trickled down his wrinkled cheek. Quickly regaining his firmness of mind, he wound up his brief but profound prayer smearing the holy ash across his broad forehead.

It was a blustery and ominously cold night. Swami moved close to the window. He wrapped his fingers around the cold and uneven rods of iron and pressed his face against it.

“Heaven is unhinged today,” he thought to himself. He stared out into the darkness for some time before proceeding to undo a carefully wrapped parcel on the cot. Sitting on the cot, he drew the wooden chair to him and placed the banana leaf parcel on it. He was just about to unwrap it when he a heard a low sobbing from outside. He thought he was imagining it and brushed it away. But the sobs grew louder than before. Rising from the cot, he headed to the door of his shack and unlatched it.

The night was still insidious and uproariously grim. Torrents of rainwater washed down the tinned roofs that clattered and clucked as if demented. Swami, severely agitated by incendiary behaviour of nature, looked around. Rain water stabbed him in the eyes that his eyes disappeared to look not larger than two slits. Scanning the premises of his hutment, he barely noticed a black figure crouched in the scanty shelter decaying roof against the wall.

“Who is that?” His shout came across as nothing more than a hoarse cry in the fury of the night.

He crept closer to the lone and drenching figure. Peering down he saw a little boy of around 8 or 9 trembling all over. The low roof had done little to shield him from the inclement weather. Had it not been for the caterwauling softened by the din of the rain, Swami couldn’t have said he was crying as water washed down in rivulets from top to bottom.

“Come inside son. Come inside” he repeated.
Holding him by the shoulders, he guided the still weeping boy inside. The wind blew boisterously that it took Swami all his effort to shut the door close. Now that the fury of the rain was behind them, the sounds issuing from the boy were no longer sobs. Swami took the towel hung over the chair and rubbed it hard against the boy’s wet hair trying to wipe him dry.Drawing a fresh white dhoti from his bag, he undid the child’s clothes and wrapped it around him.

“Calm down my child. Have you eaten anything?”
The boy gave him a forlorn look through his cries. Swami took that for a no and reached out for the parcel that lay unopened. The idlis had softened soaking in white chutney and podi. He broke one into tiny pieces and pushed it into the boy’s mouth. The boy was at first reluctant but then his hunger weakened his resolve to keep his mouth shut.

Swami was breaking the second idli when the boy asked guardedly “Did you eat?”

Swami looked deep into the boy’s fear ridden eyes for half a minute. He smiled, moved by the kid’s concern for a total stranger and did not say anything, instead offered him the last morsel of the first idli.

“I don’t want more.”

“Alright, if you say so. You sit here quietly like a good boy while I come back in a few minutes.”

Swami disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door behind him.

The boy still looked sombre but placated. He looked around the tiny room that gave the illusion of being spacious from the lack of objects in it. When everything in there had exhausted his curiosity he stared hard at the zinc red floor and was lost in deep thought. Tears once again collected in the wells of his eyes. Just then the bathroom door swung open and Swami walked out in dry clothes. He knelt down next to the boy.

“Now tell me what your name is? How did you end up here?”

“Manu,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.

“Did you get lost? Where do you live?”

“I was playing at Game Arcade in the mall. Mummy saw a friend outside and left to talk to her giving me instructions to stay there. But I didn’t listen to her and moved out because I wanted to explore the rest of the place all by myself. When I returned she wasn’t there. I didn’t know what to do. I searched all over the mall but she wasn’t anywhere. Then I saw you locking your cabin and going away. So I followed you.”

“Hasn’t your mother told you that good boys and girls don’t follow strangers?”

“You are not a stranger. I’ve seen you in the album that mummy hides in her closet”

“What is your mother’s name child?”

“Sujatha. But she likes to be called Suji though grandma will not have any of it. She says someone very special used to call her by that name when she was a kid.”

“Did you ask her who the person in the picture was?”

“No I didn’t. I didn’t want her to punish me for being a naughty boy fishing through her secret belongings. But I have seen her sitting up with the album and sobbing all day long sometimes.”

“It’s getting late. I will take you back home the first thing tomorrow. But now I shall put you to sleep.”

When he was asleep, Swami clasped his grandchild and looked out into the starry sky.

Comments for First Union

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Jan 07, 2013
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Good
by: Nuggehalli Pankaja

MOVING story!

Jan 06, 2013
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Touching Story
by: Dr.Ambujavally

Excellent work,very touching and great language.
Keep on writing.

Jan 06, 2013
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Excellent piece
by: geetha

Simple story, but the detailing and the emotions have been bought out by your way of writing . Keep it up !!

Jan 06, 2013
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Engrossing one..!
by: Shreysee

A story which engrossses a person till the last word...delivers a lot in small signs..leaves you with questions to be answered by yourself..

Jan 06, 2013
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Splendid
by: Sushma

Lovely piece of work Nirupama. I never knew you could write so well. Keep up the good work. Tell me for sure when I can read the next one by you.

Jan 05, 2013
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Sense and simplicity( courtesy Philips!)
by: Shankar

I couldn't find an apter title for my comment as well as your piece of work. Its been a while since I read a piece of work this engrossing yet so serene in tone. Good stuff!

Jan 05, 2013
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Good Old Days Revisited...
by: Dinker

I should say this is easily the most appealing short story I have read for quite some time.Have to add I have not read many of late and was told about induswomanwriting by a few friends and this is the first story I have read here.Meenu--Take a bow!!!. This is a simple but excellent narrative which captures the reader's imagination throughout.Felt like I was there with Narayanaswamy till the end.That is how good narration should be.In the modern world where the so called 'new' generation come up with mere events or sketches from real life in the pretext of 'bold creativity',this has been a wonderfully refreshing throwback to the good old days when we used to read real stories having emotional bonding as the underlying uniting knot.Only like to add that may be the choice of a few words used could have been a bit different.Just felt they were a touch complex or elite considering the situation and emotion.But this is just a subjective view .Also would be interesting to know the age of this author.If she is still an undergraduate it can be safely said that she has a solid base for many many more works.Please keep posting similar stories.Thanks Meenu and induswomanwriting.The read made my day after a hectic day in the office.

Jan 05, 2013
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WOW
by: vimala ramu

Wow, so many comments. A very well written story but the coincidence is a bit too unreal. Keep up the good work.

Jan 05, 2013
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beautifully written
by: Ipsha

Enjoyed reading the story and loved the subtlety and vivid imagery.Well written Nirupama, would love to read more of these.

Jan 05, 2013
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Thank You!
by: Nirupama Sudarsh

My sincere thanks to Shobha Ashok, Asha, Geetha.P, Ganesh, Dilip, Rochita, Arun P R, Deepa, Ramya, Geetashree Chatterjee, Laxman Ramakrishnan and Bindu for your highly encouraging comments.

Special thanks to Sudarsh, Indradip Roy and Meghna for bringing out your thoughts on my work so beautifully.

Special thanks to Rachna and Prithi Vaibhav too for your honest comments. I will try my best to incorporate your suggestions in the future.

Jan 05, 2013
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punctuation
by: Prithi Vaibhav

Your story is good. The plot, word choice, and narration style are great. But please take care of punctuation or else the reader may fail to grasp what you are trying to convey in reality. Good story and thank you. Waiting for more.

Jan 05, 2013
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Emotional intensity
by: Rachna

I read your beautiful story. I felt it could have been made better had the choice of words reflected a deeper emotional intensity befitting such sad tales. Better luck next time.

Jan 05, 2013
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Change genre
by: Anonymous

I liked the way the story was written. But the thread of sadness throughout spoiled my mood. Try to write a jolly story next time. I love your writing style.

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Jan 04, 2013
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Good work
by: Bindu

I like this sad melancholic tale with a happy ending. Gee!!

Jan 04, 2013
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Very well narrated
by: Laxman Ramakrishnan

Nice story and very good narration.Almost felt like I was right there,that's what good narration does.

Kudos

Jan 04, 2013
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One Word!
by: Geetashree Chatterjee

Beautiful

Jan 04, 2013
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Great piece of work!!
by: Ramya

This is just brilliant! Really a great piece of work. Can't believe this is ur first. Please keep writing :-)
Congrats and all the best for your future!!

Jan 04, 2013
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very nice!!
by: DEEPA

Excellent story line and narration.Hats off to you,Meenu!!Keep writing.

Jan 04, 2013
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Nice one
by: Arun P R (trivandrum)

Good work. Keep on writing!

Jan 04, 2013
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Excellent work
by: Rochita

excellent piece of work Nirupama. Looking forward to few more very soon.

Jan 04, 2013
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WONDERFUL!!!
by: DILIP

BRILLIANT PIECE OR WRITING...HOPE MORE OF THIS IS ON THE WAY.....

Jan 04, 2013
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Bravo!
by: Meghna

Beautifully written. Realistic, perhaps not much. But I did let my imagination run wild, and found this very....peaceful. Despite the desolate old man and the grieving daughter, it seemed to me that the boy served as a flickering lamp, one which had the capability to brighten both their lives, if they let that happen.
.....Uhh. Yeah

Jan 04, 2013
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an excellent insight towards story telling
by: Ganesh

you're method of portraying the characters and the way the narrative played out are outstanding. keep up the good work.

Jan 04, 2013
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Brilliant!
by: Indradip Roy

It is narrated in a manner reminiscent of visionary Indian authors of the past era. Particularly reminded me of Premchand's earthly realism which transcended through your detailed descriptions. Brilliant indeed.

Jan 04, 2013
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A TOUCHING PROTAGONIST
by: Sudarsh

What really touched me in this simple story is the plight of the protagonist. The author has vividly brought out his melancholy by alluding to the rain, darkness, and nature in general. Note how the sky has turned starry in the last sentence when Swamy regains his grand child.
Vivid imagination, magic choice of words, and a good story line had made this story readable to the end.

Jan 04, 2013
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Keep it up!
by: Geetha.P

A realistic and beautiful writing.

Jan 04, 2013
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Keep it up !
by: Asha

Loved reading this story.Very elegantly written!You have a way with words.Do write more often and hope we get to read more of your stories and poems in the future too.

Jan 04, 2013
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Excellent!
by: shobha ashok

Superb ! A very simple and touching story! Excellent language and narrative too. Keep writing!

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